The Dallas Cowboys need to get better at wide receiver. We all know CeeDee Lamb is great, and we all expect Michael Gallup to improve with more time to recover from his knee injury, but this team still needs a little extra juice.
Over this three-day weekend, we attempted to first diagnose the problem by trying to guess what the Cowboys were missing at wide receiver. With the team lacking quality separators, we focused our attention on identifying free agents who could create space. First, we indulged the fanbase with some of the bigger-name separators who could be moving on to other teams this offseason; however, with the Cowboys’ front office being known to be a little more conservative with their outside acquisitions, it only seemed logical to offer up some lower-cost candidates as well.
So, as we continue to explore the Cowboys' potential approach in addressing their wide receiver group, it’s time to throw out some names whose price tag is more to Stephen Jones’ liking. Can this team add some efficient separators without constraining their cap space? We profess they can and here are some players who could pull it off. Yesterday, we showed you the top 18 WR in terms of separation last year. Here are the next best 18 (stats courtesy of NextGenStats).
At just 5’8”, Olamide Zaccheaus is a small guy with a large assortment of tools. He went undrafted in 2019 but impressed Dan Quinn and his coaches enough to earn a spot on the Falcons’ roster. Every year his role expands and his receiving contributions have gradually increased, capping off a 533-yard performance last season. He’s a “get to his spot” guy who made things very easy for Marcus Mariota last year.
Zaccheaus isn’t flashy but does a lot of things pretty well. Besides creating good separation, he’s really good after the catch. He has an underrated catch radius for a guy his size and always seems to find the creases. He’s a good blocker who has helped spring some big runs and he contributes on special teams. In a way, he’s just a more open version of Noah Brown, which is right up the Cowboys' alley when it comes to low-cost investments. And with Quinn already familiar with his work ethic, this is a player that could be on the Cowboys' radar.
Likeliness: Fair. Players like this aren’t in high demand as he’s not your prototypical no. 3 WR, but he’s an asset and should be able to be inked for $3 million per year.
Carter is well-traveled as he’s been on five teams in as many years. He’s had a small role over his first four seasons but finally got a chance when injuries to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams opened the door for him. All he did was put together a career year.
Similar to Zaccheaus, his numbers don’t blow you out of your seat, but they show he can add a little zing to the offense. Besides having separation efficiency as good as Tyreek Hill, he also has one of the better yards-after-catch efficiencies in the league. His 5.2 YAC/rec is tied with other great separators like Davante Adams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Chris Godwin, DeVonta Smith, and Terry McLaurin.
Carter also brings value as a return specialist as he completely turned around the Chargers' punt return game. In the three years prior to last season, the Chargers were averaging 5.6 yards per punt return, worst in the NFL. This past season, Carter’s 11.7 yards per punt was second-best and the helped the Chargers have their highest punt return average in 20 years. Carter finished three spots higher than Cowboys returner KaVontae Turpin who also had three fumbles last year and had the second-most fair catches in the league.
For some reason, Turpin was hardly involved in the Cowboys' offense. With a player like Carter, they’d get a player who can create separation and who has already proven he can be an asset on offense without losing anything in the return game.
Likeliness: Fair. Coming off a season where he has shown he could step in and handle a larger role, he’s going to garner some interest and his estimated price tag of $2 million fits the Cowboys' budget.
The Giants surprised everyone by not only making the playoffs this season but snagging a playoff win and advancing to the divisional round. One of the things that aided the team in their success was their improvement on offense. After scoring the second-fewest points in both 2020 and 2021, the team improved to a middle-of-the-road 15th in points scored this past season.
New York has had it rough when it comes to wide receivers as of late. 2021 free agent signing Kenny Golladay was a complete bust and their first-round draft pick that same year, Kadarius Toney, was shipped off to Kansas City in October. And last year’s second-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson suffered a season-ending knee injury after playing just six games last year. On paper, the team had no one opposite Darius Slayton to make any noise in the receiving game.
Enter Richie James.
James had a career season last year with 57 catches for 569 yards, finishing second in receiving yards for the Giants. His numbers are almost identical to Zaccheaus and Carter and his skill set is a collaboration of the both of them. Like the other two, he is an efficient separator, finishing the same as Cooper Kupp and higher than Justin Jefferson and Deebo Samuel. While Zaccheaus and Carter are sneaky sneakertons who slip into space unnoticed, James uses his shiftiness to get open. Like Zaccheaus, he’s a good downfield blocker. And like Carter, he can help in the return game.
James has gotten better every year he’s been in the league. Not only does he do a great job getting open, but he has excellent hands and will haul in contested passes. His 81.4% catch rate led all pass-catchers in the NFL last season. He can play the slot, he can play outside, he can be a possession receiver, and he can stretch the field. This separator could be a perfect fit for the Cowboys' offense and give Prescott a reliable third option in the receiving game.
Likeliness: Fair. There’s a lot to like about James and he could be an under-the-radar safety net signing to add depth and package with another rookie from the upcoming draft. He won’t cost much.
Here is a comparison of these three free agents and their average annual salary last year (numbers courtesy of spotrac).
Which of these low-cost free agent WR do you like the most?
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Would you be interested in any of these players or do you have your own target in mind?